Browns Canyon film showcases wild beauty

Capturing the essence of wild, magical territory takes canny, extraordinary work and a true sense of place. Nathan Ward and Samuel Bricker did just that in their short film “Spirit of Browns Canyon,” recording what can only be felt in this beautiful location.

Ward and Bricker’s intuition and cinematic grace allow the landscape to speak for itself. These adventure filmmakers have a gift for knowing when to zoom in, and when to pull back. Time lapses reveal a day in the life of imposing cathedral walls of eroded pink granite and sandstone, and delicate, dignified wildflowers, all of it evocative.

The Arkansas River flows 1,500 miles from its headwaters near Leadville to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Arkansas. The river ambles, courses and plunges through Browns Canyon, dropping 360 feet in 10 miles, gaining power. Its ride put the river on the map for whitewater enthusiasts.

It’s a canyon of contrasts, different each day. Browns Canyon is a mix of river riparian and high desert ecosystems. In this 10-minute film we hear the roar and feel the ferocity of the Arkansas River, running high and fast. The river’s more gentle, quiet, soothing nature is also depicted. We see magnificence in Browns Canyon’s nooks and crannies, and its vastness. Wildlife roam in the mixed forests near hoodoos resembling drip-sand castles, statuesque pillars and crazy formations of boulders, like clay thrown to nature.

Browns Canyon has a way with colors, changing them to its mood. Reflections in water range from pink to yellow, blue-green to brown, and silver.

Even more interesting than the images in this beautiful film are the emotions they bring up.

Lovers of Browns Canyon have worked for more than 10 years to create legislation, protecting the 20,000-plus acres as a National Monument with some portion as Wilderness. Browns Canyon would then be recognized as a nationally significant landscape, as well as protected in perpetuity. Despite being about 12 miles north of Salida, not everyone is aware of this treasure.

“We didn’t know what was back there,” said Ward who grew up in Salida. This is a person who spends much of his life outdoors, playing, filming, exploring, and writing about it. “It was a major discovery. It’s wild — full-scale wilderness.”

The rugged canyon land was new to Bricker, as well, who grew up in the San Luis Valley near Monte Vista. Bricker said they came across “magical mysteries in our backyard.”

“It’s cool making a film to experience it from a neutral space,” Bricker said.

Bricker said he learned about Browns Canyon’s issues from “both sides.” Yet, after spending time in the canyon, “you find yourself making a stand.”

Both filmmakers have a zero-impact policy, treading as lightly as humanly possible in nature. I imagine this rugged yet tender place tugging at their hearts to keep it secret. But there’s satisfaction in knowing Browns Canyon can remain this way for future generations if it’s protected. The risks of destruction are much higher if it’s unmanaged.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called Browns Canyon “a very special place in our state.” The effort gained momentum in March 2012 when Udall announced a “collaborative, community-driven process” for legislation protecting Browns Canyon.

Bricker and Ward cover a lot of territory in the film, featuring each aspect of the canyon with artful, insightful shooting. Elevation is 7,500 at the river in the lower end of the canyon and reaches to more than 10,000 feet at the top of Creep Mountain. Cottonwoods border the river, piñon juniper woodland cover low-level hillsides, and ponderosa pines and aspen climb to higher elevations outside of the semi-arid rocky spots.

It’s a naturalist’s dream with a gamut of birds, mega-fauna, rainbow and brown trout.
Despite hauling camera gear in this rugged place, the filmmakers made it out unscathed. There was a mountain lion sighting, though. Ward shot footage at sunset, then walked back to his car as the moon rose. He noticed this stretch is a perfect mountain lion habitat. Soon after setting off in his car, a mountain lion ran right in front of him.

Browns Canyon as a National Monument with Wilderness would protect the canyon, its watershed and biodiverse ecosystems. The designation would celebrate a local gem and support the tourism/recreation economy. Browns Canyon would be preserved as a non-motorized haven for hiking, rafting, kayaking, climbing, hunting, fishing, biking and horseback riding. It would allow existing roads and trails for recreational access, while assuring no new construction of roads that could damage the watershed or wildlife.

This stunning film is being polished for nationwide and worldwide distribution with collaborative partnerships. Bricker and Ward hope to get “Spirit of Browns Canyon” on 2013 world tours with the Scenic & Wild and Mountain film festivals.

See this film and be moved.

“Spirit of Browns Canyon,” hosted by Friends of Browns Canyon, will screen at Benson’s Tavern and Beer Garden in Salida on Thurs., Nov. 8, at the Scenic & Wild Film Festival. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., films start at 7 p.m. It will surely be an evening of inspiration. Tickets are available at Salida Mountain Sports, Trailhead in Buena Vista and Benson’s. $7 in advance, $10 at the door. For more information, see

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3 Responses to “Browns Canyon film showcases wild beauty”

  1. Lee Hunnicutt

    I can't wait to see this film. Hope there will be a teaser available soon. I'll see everybody at the film festival on Nov.8. Let's hope that Salida will continue to celebrate this jewel of the wilderness that is in our back yard.

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  2. Linda Gibas

    As an equestrian who has ridden many miles in the Brown's Canyon Wilderness Study Area, I can attest to the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of this area. Come to the festival and be amazed by what is in our backyard!

    Like (0)
  3. Susan Mayfield

    Thank you, Ann Marie, for this great review. I saw the movie also, and it filled me with appreciation for this amazing wild place we have in our neighborhood. Sam and Nate did an excellent job on this film. Come to the premiere at Bensons, Thursday, November 8th!

    Like (0)